Under manager Sir Alex Ferguson, the stars who brought the glory days back to the club in 1990s were successfully replaced with two batches of players that continued the Scot's winning tradition.
It would be wrong to think all this came easily. A drought after Premier League titles in 00/01 and 02/03 threatened to unravel all this good work as the fallout from Malcolm Glazer’s hostile takeover transferred itself to the pitch in 2005.
Out of the flames, a new leader emerged in Cristiano Ronaldo. Since 06/07, three league titles, league cup, Champions League and Club World Cup have been added to the overflowing Old Trafford trophy cabinet.
The Portuguese’s record breaking move to Real Madrid has forced Ferguson back to the drawing board. But, with his impeccable pedigree, it’d be foolish to bet against a new reign of supremacy beginning in the coming years.
Edwin Van Der Sar – The giant Dutchman’s belated arrival as replacement for the Great Dane, Peter Schmeichel, in 2005 has been a key factor in the Reds’ re-emergence.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s search for his next No.1 took in over six top level candidates, including French World Cup winning keeper Fabian Barthez. None had the former Ajax man’s spider like physique or ability to remain calm under pressure.
The curtain is now coming down on the 39-year-old's career as mistakes start to creep into his game. But, make no bones about it, a replacement for Van Der Sar will be just as difficult to find.
Gary Neville – A Red Devil to the core, Neville has lived the dream of any boyhood supporter to wear the captain’s armband.
While injuries and old age have ravaged his recent career, this one club man remains the face of the traditional values of Manchester United.
Away from lifting 19 trophies and baiting Liverpool fans since his debut in 1992, the Bury-born player has also found time to collect 85 England caps.
Nemanja Vidic – Crafted from granite, Nemanja Vidic has pulverized any opposition unlucky enough to come across him in the club’s quest for domestic and European honors.
The reigning Manchester United Player and Player’s Player of the Year’s rock solid partnership with Rio Ferdinand since joining from Spartak Moscow in 2006 has underscored the Red Devil’s march to supremacy.
Quite simply, Vidic has made a mockery of those who say quality January buys are impossible to come across.
Rio Ferdinand – A British transfer fee record-breaker from Leeds United in 2002 who now looks cheap at £29.1 million, Ferdinand is in a class of his own as a center back.
It’s not always been easy for the West Ham youth product, with a drugs ban and contract stand-off derailing his career in 2004 and 2005.
The Peckham-born player has since emerged as the linchpin of a team that has conquered all before it.
Patrice Evra – Few watching Evra’s shaky debut in the Manchester derby in 2006 could have predicted the former Monaco man’s march to becoming the best left back in the business.
The France international’s trademark dashes up the pitch and ability to snaffle the ball from any winger have put paid to those memories.
Dovetailing with Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs, the Senegal-born player can rightly claim to have played a starring role in the Red Devil’s trophy filled recent history.
Cristiano Ronaldo – From gangly trick pony, to the world’s most expensive player, Ronaldo’s transformation at Manchester United has been remarkable.
The Portuguese has re-invited the position of winger during the club’s current three consecutive Premier League wins. Without his unprecedented strike rate, all this wouldn’t have been impossible.
CR7 was famously bought in 2003 from Sporting Lisbon after tearing United apart in a friendly. He now leaves for Real Madrid as FIFA World Player of the Year and a true Red Devils legend.
Roy Keane – While not the omnipotent, no holds-barred force of the 1990s, Roy Keane still managed to leave his mark in the last decade.
In the case of mortal enemy Alf-Inge Haaland, this was literally the case as his knee high tackled ended the Norwegian’s career in 2001.
The former Nottingham Forest player captained United to Premier League titles in 00/01 and 02/03 before a trademark explosion on M.U.T.V closed the door on his time at the club which stretched from 1993-2005.
Honest to the end, Keane has left a powerful legacy which no central midfielder will come close to matching.
Paul Scholes – Whether next to Michael Carrick or Roy Keane, Scholes’ unassuming demeanor and flawless ability on the ball has shined through regardless.
The anti-thesis to the glamor and bravado of the modern footballer, the Oldham-born youth product has made his name on the pitch instead of the tabloids since first appearing in 1994.
When David Beckham joined the ‘Galacticos’ of Real Madrid in 2003, he said Zinedine Zidane, Raul etc all asked him what was it like to train next to a player as good as the 'ginger maestro' every day. That tells you everything you need to know about him.
Ryan Giggs – Sometimes the term ‘legend’ barely suffices to describe the contribution of a player. For Welsh wonder Ryan Giggs, the superlatives need to be piled on liberally before you would come anywhere near to a reflection of his achievements.
While still as sinewy as the day he made his debut in 1991, the trademark speed has left him. A move from flying winger to crafty central midfielder ensued in the 00s.
This hasn’t detracted from his ability, with his award of the current PFA’s Player of the Year trophy saying everything you need to know about the 35-year-old.
Wayne Rooney – Not many Merseysiders weave their way into the hearts of the Manchester United faithful. Rooney has done this with ease.
A jaw-dropping Euro 2004 prompted a £30m move from Everton. The boyhood Blue’s debut hat trick proved that Sir Alex Ferguson was right to splash the cash.
In tandem with Cristiano Ronaldo, the pair have run rings around the establishment and driven the Reds to success.
The Portuguese’s departure has cleared the way for him to take centre stage at the Theatre of Dreams. Don’t expect him to pass on the opportunity.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy – ‘Van the Man’s’ ability to find the back of the net was unprecedented in the recent history of the club.
After finalizing his abortive move from PSV Eindhoven in 2001, 220 appearances generated an astonishing 150 goals. With statistics like that, it’s hard to see why the Dutchman was so unceremoniously dumped in 2006.
Only one Premier League trophy was secured in his time at the club, and a mutual parting of the ways to Real Madrid saw both parties come out of their separation in glory.
Van Der Sar
Neville - Vidic – Ferdinand - Evra
Ronaldo - Keane – Scholes - Giggs
Rooney – Van Nistelrooy
Matt Monaghan, Goal.com
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